Air Conditioning Fraud & Scams: How to Avoid Them and Save Money

Temperatures Rising

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Has This Ever Happened to You?

It's the middle of a long, hot summer, and temperatures are soaring into the 100's. You come home from work early expecting to walk into your nice cool home. Instead, you open the door to a blast of heat. All of your plants are dying, and your pet is overheated. You turn on your fans and open your windows, but that just doesn't help. You quickly search for an air conditioning repair company. The technician fixes your problem to the tune of $1,000. Then, a week later, your air conditioner quits again!! YOU'VE BEEN SCAMMED!

Buyer Beware!

Why Would Someone Scam Me?

Many company technicians are paid by the amount of revenue they generate. In other words, they have to sell you something. This is particularly true of large companies because of their large overhead costs. One large company required their technicians to sell $1,700 a day. So, if that company's technician is coming out to do anything at your home, he will do whatever it takes to get you to buy something additional. Not being trained in the a/c repair business, we homeowners are often at the mercy of whoever is doing the work, honest or dishonest.

Fixing Your Problems

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Find the best information about the best companies and technicians by clicking here.

Honesty & Integrity

Below are SCAMS that are common in the air conditioning and heating business. I was able to find an honest, well qualified, heating and air person, Mike Murphy of North Denver, Colorado. Mike provided me with the information below. Mike has worked in the heating and cooling business for 27 years, working and teaching technicians, and owned his own business, Mid America Heating and Cooling. Mike is a 20-yr. decorated, Air Force veteran who decided to bring honesty and integrity to the furnace and air conditioning business. He is a licensed owner, insured, experienced, and NATE Certified.

Finding Problems

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Stay Cool

Charging Your Air Conditioner

When the technician arrives, before he can evaluate your air conditioner, he should verify that everything is clean and that the unit has proper air flow for its size. He needs to evaluate the duct work to be sure it can handle air flow requirements.

Scam: The technician does none of that. If the unit is dirty, he usually pulls out the Freon bottle. (Freon for a small R-22 air conditioner is $150 per pound. For an average house a/c unit will hold 4 to 5 pounds.) The problem may be something else if the technician never checks. A qualified technician should have a Freon leak detector because they are very accurate. A detector may not be needed if there is a huge leak and the system is empty.

The technician should make sure everything mechanical is operational before adding Freon. Freon doesn't wear out. If the unit is low, either it had been undercharged initially or there is a leak.

If the technician says, "You have a Freon leak." Ask him to show you where. The goal of many companies is to get the repair bill high enough to justify replacing your air conditioning unit. GET A SECOND OPINION.

Hard Start Kits

Hard Start Kits may be needed if your air conditioning unit is old. New units use a different compressor system that equalizes pressures with the system off.

Scam: The technician says, "How would you like to extend the life of your compressor by 20 years and stop your lights from browning out?" [NOTE: If your lights are browning out, you have a different problem.] The only thing the Hard Start Kit will do for your new air conditioner is allow you to walk faster because your wallet will be lighter.

Also, if the technician is doing things that are not according to the manufacturer's book, the warranty will become invalid.

Removed Blower to be Cleaned

Clean & Check/Tune-Up/Servicing

If you are paying $29 for a Service call, you will get what you pay for. $29 pays only for the gas to get the technician to your house. The goal is to get you to pick them as your air conditioning and heating service company. They will sell you something that you don’t need (and make you believe you do) or, sometimes, damage a functioning system, so that some future problem will arise. Or, the air conditioning technician may disconnect the wire to your heater, insuring that he/his company will get a repair call in the coming fall.

NOTE: Checking your furnace should take 1 ½ hours. Often the technician will just dust the easily reachable surface areas. This does not clean the blower, so you are not being properly serviced.

Air Flow

Condenser Readings

It is imperative that the outside condenser is cleaned and free of debris before the technician takes a reading of your A/C performance. Also, the furnace should have a new filter and the evaporator coil should be examined for cleanliness before any testing can be accurately done. All supply vents (where cool air comes out) must be open and return vents are unobstructed (nothing closer than 6 inches), including curtains and furniture. The system was designed to cool the whole house with all of the vents open. Closing the vents reduces airflow. The lifeblood of an air conditioner is airflow.

Scam: Before doing any of the above, the technician will mislead the homeowner by testing. This will give a false or misleading reading on the tech's gauges. The gauge may indicate a low charge or an overcharge--an air conditioning problem that only exists because of dirty components or obstructed air flow. Then, the technician will "fix the problem" for more money $$$.

More Condenser Scams

In the condenser, below the motor, is the fan blade. Where the shaft enters the motor, after one year, an oil residue will be evident because the oil has impregnated the brass bearing. As long as there is no "play" in the shaft, this is normal. The technician should even put a few drops of oil into this area. What causes the oil to leach is the hot motor heating the brass causing the viscosity to change.

Scam: The technician will tell you that the oil residue is an impending failure, requiring extensive work or new parts.

If the fan blade is bent or cracked, it must be replaced since it could cause the motor to run out of balance and destroy the bearings in the motor.

Scam: Some technicians will bend the fan, but you won't know that this is how the bend happened. Once bent, the fan needs to be replaced.

The condenser is usually cleaned by washing with water.

Scam: The technician recommends that the condenser be acid cleaned for greater efficiency. It will make your condenser look brand new, but the efficiency will be insignificant. Your acid clean cost: $250.

Finding Solutions

Evaporator Coil Cleaning

If there is poor access to the evaporator coil, the technician will need to remove it. The coil can be above or below the furnace.

If the technician says, "Your Evaporator Coil needs to be cleaned," ask him, "How do you know?" If he says, "I can see it," answer, "Why can't I?"

Contactor

Every time you turn on your air conditioner, part of the process involves a 24 volt signal being sent to the outside unit which closes a contactor, creating a spark. If you flip over the contactor points, that regularly spark, the contactor will appear to be burned.

Scam: The visual of the appearance of a burned contactor is powerful! A technician can sell a new one on every job. Your cost: $250.

NOTE: The compressor will burn if the contactor is not receiving the correct voltage. When the contactor is closed, the reading should be "0". Even if the reading is 1/2 volt, the contactor will need to be replaced.

Sealing Mechanical Room

Duct Sealing

Duct Sealing can be one of the most energy saving procedures. It consists of sealing all or the cracks, seams, and joints in the ducts and distribution tubes, that have dried and cracked over time, with a paste duct sealer. For every 1% leakage due to cracks, you lose 1% of the efficiency of the unit (both heating and cooling). 90% of these leaks will be in the basement.

Scam: This is a hard job, so the technician will only do where it is easy.

Duct Cleaning Scams

It's All About Air Flow

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Duct Work

"If your duct work can support a 3-ton air conditioning unit, and you have a 4-ton in use, that means that for every ton of air conditioning, you need 400 cu. feet of air flow. Since your duct work can not deliver that amount of air, it is like your unit is sucking through a soda straw. That 4-ton unit will not be able to move the air flow across the coils fast enough. So, the coil freezes and can't absorb enough heat. Bigger is not always better." Mike Murphy, Mid America Heating and Cooling. You may need a 5-ton unit for your home, but if the duct work can only handle a 3-ton, then, that's what should be installed. It's all about air flow (at a given static pressure). "If you hear a 'boom' when your heat or cool air comes on, your air pressure is not set-up right."


Low Supply Vent

Open Window Above Interior Door

Doors could be closed with the window above open for air circulation or closed for privacy.
Doors could be closed with the window above open for air circulation or closed for privacy.

Vents

Return vents need to be accessible for all supply vents: either have a return vent in each room or doors open or an air flow grill (transfer grills) above the doors. Another option would be to run flexible ducts to the main return from the ceiling. The problem with the flexible ducts is that there is a lot of air flow resistance.

If a new house is built for air conditioning, the supply vents will have enough throw to shove the cool air to the ceiling to mix with the warm air. Old homes were not built for A/C, so the returns are on the floor, and the thermostat never gets satisfied because the cool air loop is not reaching the thermostat.

The fraud or scam happens when a technician tells you that your old house doesn't need high returns. They tell you this because moving the return to near the ceiling is a lot of work and can sometimes be a nightmare for the technician. You need to make sure you are working with someone who understands duct work and high ceilings.

What you want from your air conditioner is good throw to the other side of the room. If your vent is too small, the throw will be too strong. If the fan is too big for the duct work, the system will be noisy because the fan is pushing the air at high velocity.

Use These Filters & Change Monthly

Filters

Most people purchasing filters for their heating and air conditioning vents like the idea of purchasing an 'up to' 90-day filter, so they can avoid monthly filter changes. The only way those filters will run efficiency for 90 days is if the home is clean and free of pets and children. Inexpensive ($4-$5), white, pleated filters changed monthly are best for energy efficiency. (This doesn't apply to 4"-thick, pleated, furnace filters.)

The 90-day filter can "load up" with particles. This "load up" is particularly true if you have ultra violet lights inside your supply duct. The lights charge the particles of dust (because positive and negative attract) and causes the dust to clump. Cheaper filters will catch larger particles, and your air will be cleaner.

Don't Throw Your Money Away by Buying a Service Contract

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JUST SAY "NO"

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Service Contract

A Service Contract is a SCAM!! A company will tell you that the service plan (cost: $179 or $250 or $375) will provide a variety of services for you each year. All of the services mentioned in their plan are typical services that an honest company would provide in a normal "clean and check" for a cost of $79-$179 per heat or cool check. Under the plan, you still have to pay additional costs for repairs and installations.


Most companies will sell you the plan using your credit or debit card and have that plan automatically renew each year. Frequently, they will only cancel the yearly payment if they receive your request to cancel in writing at three months of the end of a yearly contract renewal.

One of the ideas of the Service Contract is for a company to keep its employees busy. So, during slow times (spring & fall), the company will send someone to service your air conditioner. Often, it is still cold outside. To properly check an air conditioning unit, it needs to be warm outside. So, the technician will put a tent over the air conditioner to run it. However, this is not a recommended or approved method and not how an air conditioner is designed to run. You want your A/C unit to be checked in warm weather.

Bottom Line: Do Not Get a Service Contract.




HVAC Crooks Taking Your Money?

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Knowledge is Power: Make Good Spending Choices

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Rip Offs

You could have an excellent and knowledgeable salesman who videos your problems and places stickers on the wall indicating where things should be done, then, the installer determines that what the salesman wants done is too much work or will take too long and, doesn't do it.

Today's installers may be untrained, and the team leader doesn't have time to train. The company requirement (usually large companies) is to work fast to make the most money for the company, meaning quickly moving from job to job. Click here to learn best options for choosing a company or technician.

The large company that requires its technicians to sell $1,700 per day (mentioned above) also holds weekly meetings with technicians and sales people to reward those with highest sales, giving them cash for higher dollar amounts.

Another company was taken to court for cheating so many people and is now, by federal government mandate, not allowed to sell anything over $3,000 to people over age 55 without state approval. So, today, they regularly sell these senior citizens $2,999 worth of repairs!

Find an honest company before giving your money away to crooks. See my article, Air Conditioning and Heating Services: Best Options and How to Get Them.

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2 comments

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

Yes, I had a bad experience with one of the large HVAC companies (which changed its name) because the techs weren't cleaning my A/C condenser even though I was paying for a maintenance contract and they said they were performing maintenance. They actually weren't, and the condenser stopped working altogether and could not be repaired.

However, readers should not get the impression that all HVAC companies, owners and employees are scam artists. There are people in every occupation who will try to cheat customers, but there are also many who are honest and reliable.

I recently bought a new electric heat pump system with air handler for a very affordable price and got the right size system for my home's size and configuration with advice I trusted from the company's owner (who does as much of the actual work as his employees). The installation cost he charged me was much, much less than anything quoted to me by other companies, even though additional ductwork, insulation and another vent were needed. My questions were answered thoroughly.

The new system is working beautifully, and I'm certainly enjoying it in the hot, humid climate of a central Mississippi summer. It's energy rating is very good, so my electric bill should be significantly decreased from the huge amounts I paid every month last winter. Heat pumps are more efficient than traditional forced-air systems. I'd lived in a house with a heat pump before, so I never even considered replacing my old system with anything else.

I will have this same company handle routine maintenance on my system, but no one ever suggested a maintenance contract. I may be lucky to have found a young man with personal integrity in the HVAC field, but I will recommend his company to everyone I know in this area.

Jaye


Beverly Stevens profile image

Beverly Stevens 2 years ago from College Station Author

No, of course not all companies or technicians are scam artists, but there are a lot of them out there, and homeowners shouldn't assume the person they found through a great ad is a good technician (company).

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